FORT WAYNE – Score one – well, two, really – for time travel.
It’ll be a useful tool Saturday at Memorial Coliseum, when Woodlan and Garrett hit the floor to decide the championship of the boys ACAC basketball tournament. The Warriors haven’t won the championship since 1997; the Railroaders have never won it and are making their first trip back to the finals since 2010.
But they’ll both be there after Woodlan survived a late Bluffton rally to take out the two-time defending champion Tigers 58-55, and Garrett beat Adams Central 54-49 Thursday night in the semifinals.
“It feels good to play here. It’s my first time ever playing here, and I’m looking forward to playing again and getting a championship,” said Garrett junior Justin McCoy, who scored 16 points along with 6-foot-7 center Matt Singleton.
“It feels amazing. This is what us seniors talked about, (that) we just want to put Woodlan back on the map any way we can,” said Woodlan senior Kadin Gerig, for whom even 1997 must seem impossibly distant.
“Yeah, that’s ancient history to these kids,” Woodlan coach Dave Randall said.
Woodlan beat Bluffton for the second time in five days, and Garrett avenged a 47-40 loss to AC five days ago.
The Railroaders did it by shaking off a sluggish first quarter – AC outscored them 13-2 across the last 4:30 to take an 18-8 lead after one – with a robust second quarter. Garrett scored 15 of the first 17 points of the second and rattled eight turnovers out of the Flying Jets en route to a 25-23 halftime lead, and nothing was decided thereafter until AC kicked away an inbounds pass with 15.5 seconds remaining while trailing by three.
“I have such good kids, and the last thing I want to do is chew them out during a timeout, but I had to get after them pretty hard (after the first quarter),” Garrett coach John Bodey said. “And I thought they responded pretty well. We didn’t get off to a good start, but we persevered and bounced back.”
In the first semifinal, meanwhile, Gerig scored 16 points – nine in the first quarter – and Greg White 12 for Woodlan, which lived both large and desperate before it was all over.
The Warriors used a 14-2 run in the first half to get to the break with a 32-28 lead, then feasted on a seven-minute Bluffton drought in the third quarter to build a 44-32 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
With 2:30 to play, the gap was 13, 54-41.
Then things got interesting.
Across the next 1:20, Bluffton went on a 10-0 run – ignited mostly by sophomore Grant Prible, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter – to cut the lead to 54-51 with 1:10 to play. And when Aaron Sturgeon cleaned up a miss for Bluffton with 2.8 seconds on the clock, Woodlan’s lead was down to 57-55.
But a free throw by White made it 58-55, and when Bluffton forward Michael Pearson’s desperation toss banged off the glass from beyond midcourt, it was finally over.
“We just can’t stand prosperity,” Randall said. “We threw the ball around a lot. Kids think they have to make an extra play when things get tight. No, you don’t. You just have to hang in there and do what you’ve done the first 30 minutes.
“But you know what? That’s details. I’m glad we won. I feel like we worked hard for 32 minutes. We’ve still got some brain farts we need to work out, but I’m thrilled with the win. We’re playing for a championship; we came here to win a championship.”